“We know these balloons are all part of a PRC fleet of balloons developed to conduct surveillance operations,” said a State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
The U.S. government release said that high resolution imagery captured during flybys by U-2 spy planes revealed that the ballon was capable of signals intelligence operations far beyond the abilities of a weather balloon, boasting “multiple antennas to include an array likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications,” said the official.
The State Department said China’s balloon spy operations are carried out by the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, using balloons that are manufactured by firm that has a direct relationship with China’s military, according to the PLA’s procurement documents.
“The company also advertises balloon products on its website and hosts videos from past flights, which appear to have overflown at least U.S. airspace and airspace of other countries,” said the State Department official. “These advertised balloon videos seemingly have similar flight patterns as the balloons we have been discussing this week.”
The technology is “not the type of equipment you’d expect on a balloon conducting a meteorological mission,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Charlie “Tuna” Moore, a former fighter pilot who helped run operations out of NORAD and is familiar with aerial surveillance equipment.
Without knowing exactly what the Chinese were collecting, he said, “I would imagine they would be interested in collecting emissions or signals coming off a variety of systems” that can be analyzed for vulnerabilities. “They’d pull those signals apart and look for vulnerabilities or ways to tap into them on a more permanent basis,” said Moore, now a visiting professor at Vanderbilt University. “Building a picture of our radar, weapon system and communication capabilities and those of our allies is the whole point.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.
*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.